Sunday, February 21, 2016



  Virtually unknown in the United States, Valaida Snow may be the most talented performer you have never heard of before.  I learned about her from my fellow teacher and excellent filmmaker Alile Larkin, who wrote and illustrated a beautiful children's book about her.  There is much controversy surrounding her own accounts of her experience when she went abroad and was caught by the Nazis while living in Denmark.
   Valaida Snow learned to perform from her show business parents.  She was born in 1904 in Chattanooga, Tennessee into a large family.  By age 5 she was singing and dancing,  and playing the violin.  By age 15 she could play the violin, cello, bass, banjo, mandolin, harp, accordion, clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet.  "She also sang and danced. Her preferred instrument was the trumpet, and she soon acquired the nickname, “Little Louis,” from Louis Armstrong himself who acknowledged her greatness—he told others she was the second best jazz trumpet player alive."

      Valaida Snow was as beautiful as she was talented. She conducted all male orchestras. She was an excellent trumpeter in a male profession.  She was a singer, dancer, performer and sought after for various shows including  "Broadway and nightclub acts. She was cast in Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's Chocolate Dandies in 1924. Chocolate Dandies toured for six months and made it to Broadway. Lena Horne and Josephine Baker were among the chorus girls for this exciting production. Snow performed in concerts in the states, Europe and Asia. ("    "Valaida's heyday was in the 1930s, when she was a celebrity in London and Paris. Her signature hit song "High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm" was recorded during this time. Snow was in Rhapsody in Black with Ethel Waters in New York. She even appeared in films and her popularity showed no signs of diminishing. A successful run at the Apollo Theater in New York and a high profile marriage to Ananias Berry, one of the dancing Berry Brothers, did not hurt either. ("

   "Indeed, Valaida Snow had an impressive discography of music and appearances. She made significant contributions in the male dominated music industry as a Black female. Snow traveled to all the major cosmopolitan cities by the time she was twenty five and conducted orchestras at age thirty, according to Mark Miller*. The Queen of the Trumpet also led all female jazz bands, proving that she could pack dance halls and auditoriums. Yes, she was more than just a pretty colored chorus girl doing the latest dance craze in a Harlem nightclub."

   "In the mid-1930’s she made films with her husband, Ananias Berry, of the Berry Brothers dancing troupe. After playing New York’s Apollo Theatre, she revisited Europe and the Far East for more shows and films."   Click on this link to see her husband performing:     The Berry Brothers Dance Act


   "As the story has been written numerous times, while touring through Denmark in 1941, she was arrested by the Nazis during the German occupation of Denmark and kept at Vestre Fængsel (Western Prison), a Danish prison in Copenhagen that was run by the Nazis. She was released on a prisoner exchange in May 1942. According to jazz historian Scott Yanow, “she never emotionally recovered from the experience.”
   This account is highly disputed.  "Author and researcher Jayna Brown in her book Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern claims that Snow stayed in wartime Denmark by choice and that the story of her imprisonment was a press generating ploy invented by her management to set the stage for her return to America. Mark Miller’s biography High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life of Valaida Snow also dismantles the fictions of her life and paints a portrait of a talented performer, albeit one that didn’t shy from stretching the truth to suit her needs for a bit of play in the press."

   "Her unmatched musicianship in the early part of the twentieth century in the field of vaudeville, jazz and film cannot be denied. The "Queen of Trumpet" excelled in a male dominated arena. She was a jazz performer who was in Denmark at the time of Nazi occupation during WWII. Valaida Snow's shocking claim of being in a Nazi concentration camp and her life as an entertainer warrants a closer look. Snow died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1956."
    "While the truth of her stories of imprisonment may be in question, what is undeniably true is that Ms. Snow was an entertainer extraordinaire; a Black woman from the U.S.A. who, against the odds, survived in Europe during the Nazi era!"

Valaida Snow, The Real Queen of Jazz - 
America Comes Alive - Valaida Snow: Jazz Pioneer and Queen of the Trumpet - 
Montford Point Marines - Valaida Snow - 
Black History Month - Valaida Snow -   

No comments:

Post a Comment